Holding that the State has a duty to protect the life of its citizens, the Patna High Court on Wednesday granted Rs. 10 lakh as compensation to the father of a 18 years old boy who died in October last year in the Munger Maa Durga Pooja firing incident.
The order is significant as compensation has been granted pending investigation into the firing incident.
A Single Bench of Justice Rajeev Ranjan Prasad observed that it is irrelevant, for the purpose of granting compensation, as to who was behind the firing that led to the unfortunate demise of the boy, as it is the duty of the State to protect the lives of its citizens.
The order stated,
"The State had a responsibility to safeguard the life of a citizen…Whether son of the petitioner died as a result of firing by police or by any miscreants from the mob would not be relevant for the simple reason that in any case the State had failed to protect the life of the son of the petitioner who was a spectator in the procession of Maa Durga Idole Immersion."
The incident occurred in October 2020, during the Durga Puja idol immersions in Munger.
As per the authorities, problem of law and order arose during the procession and the people participating in the procession turned into unlawful and unruly assembly, and started pelting stones and opened fire on security forces.
The Petitioner on the other hand claimed that the Munger Police led by then Superintendent of Police did not follow the procedures provided under the Bihar Police Manual in the matter of resorting to firing on a crowd, and they indulged in indiscriminate and brutal firing on the devotees.
He alleged that the Police personnel did not resort to any alternative method to control the crowd, prior to firing police.
The incident led to death of the Petitioner's son and injured around 30 people.
The instant writ petition was filed by the Petitioner seeking independent probe into the incident by CBI.
The Petitioner placed before the Court the internal report of the Central Industrial Security Force (CISF) which stated that the bullet firing was initiated by Munger Police.
He alleged that because of the political clout and connections of the then Superintendent of Police, the investigation has not progressed.
He submitted that as an eye-wash, a team of eight police personnel was constituted under leadership of the newly transferred SP and directions were issued to the SIT to conduct investigation on several points but such direction of the supervising authority i.e. D.I.G., Munger were completely ignored.
The SIT merely made a 'special report' case on paper on the basis of a very shoddy and perfunctory kind of investigation.
The Petitioner further informed the Court that the matter has been transferred to CID of Bihar Police. However, since the then SP is closely related to the head of the ruling party in the State, thus there is reasonable apprehension that the CID (which is under State Government) will not be able to investigate the matter independently.
It was also alleged that key witnesses of the case were being framed in illegal liquor cases by District police.
At the outset, the Bench observed that the Petitioner has not put anything on record against CID so as to cast a cloud over the credibility of its investigation.
"This Court has prima-facie observed that Munger police and the SIT constituted for purpose of investigation of the case has not acted in natural direction but, in the changed circumstances where CID is now investigating the case, this Court in absence of any cogent material is not ready to accept the spacious plea of learned counsel for the petitioner that the 'CID' is not likely to investigate the case in a free and fair manner against the police personnel. No material showing wielding of influence by any person or authority over the 'CID' has been placed before this Court," the order stated.
Thus, stating that transfer of investigation is not imperative at this stage, the Bench refused to exercise its discretionary jurisdiction under Article 226 of the Constitution of India.
Reliance was placed on Sakiri Vasu v. State of UP, AIR 2008 SC 907, whereby the Supreme Court held as under:
"This Court or the High Court has power under Article 136 or Article 226 to order investigation by the CBI. That, however should be done only in some rare and exceptional cases, otherwise, the CBI would be flooded with a large number of cases and would find it impossible to properly investigate all of them."
Reference was also made to the case of Arnab Ranjan Goswami v. Union of India & Ors., 2020 SCC Online SC 462, whereby the Supreme Court refused to transfer the investigation from Mumbai Police to CBI.
The Apex Court had reiterated therein, "…The transfer of an investigation to the CBI is not a matter of routine. The precedents of this Court emphasise that this is an "extraordinary power" to be used "sparingly" and "in exceptional circumstances".
The Bench further held that the apprehensions expressed by Petitioner by pointing out the relationship of the then SP with the head of the Ruling Party of the State has no basis to stand at this stage.
"Moreover, in the writ petition there is no specific statement in this regard and they are not made party in the present writ application. In the case of Prof. K.V. Rajendran (supra) a plea of 'bias' was rejected by the Hon'ble Supreme Court when it was found that the person against whom plea of 'bias' is being taken has not been made party and he had no notice," the Bench added.
It was of the opinion that since CID has already assumed the investigation, it must get an opportunity to act freely, collect all the evidences and submit its first report to the Court in a sealed cover. Time of four weeks has been granted for this purpose.
The Court however deemed it just and proper to monitor the investigation for the present, keeping in mind the purpose of continuing mandamus in a Court monitored investigation.
It has also ordered that the case file of this case shall not be go to any other authority (certainly to avoid interference in the investigation).
Furthermore, in order to ensure free and fair investigation of the case, the State has been asked to shift all the eight members of the SIT, including SP Munger, to some other place for the present, within three days.
On the issue of compensation, the Court found that the facts disclosed so far that the son of the Petitioner was unarmed in the procession, and there was no allegation that he was indulged in any unlawful act.
Thus, it directed the State respondents to pay a sum of Rs. 10 laks towards compensation within one month to the Petitioner, who being the father of the deceased has remained in mental pains and sufferings.
It is, however, left open for the Petitioner to claim further compensation under private law remedy against the wrongdoer.
Arguments for the Petitioner were led by Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, assisted by Advocate Manas Prakash.
Respondents were represented by AG Lalit Kishore, AAG Anjani Kumar assisted by Advocate Shailendra Kumar Singh and Govt Pleader Nadim Seraj assisted by Advocate Shailesh Kumar.
The case is fixed for May 6, 2021.
Case Title: Amar Nath Poddar v. State of Bihar & Ors.